Marin County Pleasures

Our food producers are the soils, the cows, the bees, the mollusks that are managed by the farmers and conservationists and together they produce high-quality ingredients for our table while protecting the landscape.

In a world that struggles with valuing its table manners as much as its profit margins, community partnerships are needed.

In 1980, Ellen Straus and friend, Phyllis Faber, founded Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), the first agricultural land trust in the country. MALT has since protected over 53,000 acres of farmland in Marin County through the purchase of agricultural conservation easements that partner with farmers to increase viability.

MALT's model for success has played more than a major role in protecting local farmland from development. By protecting farmlands in perpetuity, they have also fostered a world-class food and fiber shed that has also been recognized for its innovations in carbon sequestration planning.  To that end, networks of conversations and conservation methods have come together developing a successful marketplace while protecting valuable open space for a host of species.

MALT and its partners have employed several innovative strategies to secure the resiliency of Marin farmland, as well as its farmers by developing an economic system that supports both nature and farmer. This systems thinking approach fosters community relationships as well as public relationships to the land, food and fiber produced on these protected pastures. MALT values interrelated synergies over isolated successes with metrics that measure the number of bird species and beehives along with the wellbeing of intergenerational farmers working these lands. Open space like this is also increasingly valuable not just for its food production and biodiversity but for its potential to sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide into the soils, root and microbial systems.   

Jeff Stump, the conservation director at MALT,  is somewhat of a modern cowboy, wrangling efforts to conserve land, sequester carbon-dioxide and keep farmers work financially viable. As a systems-thinker, he has incorporated these efforts into successful land-management plans while inspiring co-beneficial lifestyles and intermingled communities. While foraging for mushrooms for his dinner, I imagine he is simultaneously reveling in the capacity of this mycological substrate to help build carbon-rich soils. Making connections like this is invaluable as nature is our best ally in restoring the atmosphere, habitat and quality of life.

Foraging for wild mushrooms may also strengthen one's capacity to forage for answers to big questions in unexpected places. Good mushroom foragers know that if you want to tap into the fruits of the  mycelium web it's often a good strategy to stand still and look around, rather than wildly searching. It seems that Jeff Stump has successfully fostered global solutions by looking closely at the connections on the land in his community. He is not alone, many Marin conservationists are moving the global needle with very local solutions, some of which we discovered on our Marin Farm tour with the Environmental Forum of Marin.

I for one, no longer fly to the far reaches of the earth leaving a big carbon footprint in my trail to look for my answers. Increasingly, I am compelled to unearth the answers around me in Marin County. By connecting to this community and its conservation landscape, I build my conversation landscape between nature and her inhabitants, between fields and food, between bees and the sweet life that we foster. By protecting what we enjoy and value here we take the first step in creating a truly sustainable and interconnected world everywhere.

We visited Albert Straus at his dairy farm. A pioneer  producer of popular local, organic milk and creamery products he is also innovating organic dairy practices nationally. 


In 1994, Albert Straus, Ellen Strus's son,  launched the Straus Family Creamery brand from his family farm that has been a working farm since the 1940's.  His deep commitment to supporting a dairy farming system that is both environmentally friendly and economically viable has paid off. Their minimally processed dairy products are a testament to how local milk can produce a world of change. The farm has also incorporated electric farm vehicles and a methane digester that supplies all of the farm's energy. These methane mitigation practices are important steps for dairy farmers to consider nationally, as methane green-house gas is 36 times stronger than CO2 .  

After the Straus farm tour and tasting their yummy, naturally-sweet, lactose-free chocolate milk we hopped in the bus and headed just south to Hog Island Oyster Farm.

Farmed oysters are a remarkably efficient form of protein and are produced without any inputs into the tidal bays that host the vertical oyster farms.

This sustainably grown gourmet delicacy comes in natural, portable, self-ceiling, biodegradable, water-proof containers known as the oyster shell. 


Oysters can provide a lot of iron-rich protein without polluting the sea. The shells could potentially seed reefs, which grow into natural sea walls that become bio-diverse living systems. These reefs may help mitigate some of the effects sea-level rise while also sequestering carbon dioxide that is contributing to climate change. This cost-effective natural manner to mitigate sea-level rise may give everyone a reason to eat more delicious oysters that produce no pollution. This is just another systems thinking approach that looks to the landscape, and human activity as intrinsic to the whole system, providing protection for both the business and the landscape that supports it.  

Another take away from Hog Island Oysters was the efficacy of the 55-mph speed limit to significantly conserve fuel. This simple requirement of the their delivery drivers saves their company thousands of dollars annually while reducing carbon emissions significantly.

After feasting on a
few fresh oysters and enjoying the views of Tomales Bay we headed to the infamous Cowgirl Creamery to sample their cheeses.

Albert Staus's sister, Vivien, brought to life the remarkable story of how a couple of passionate women can make some delicious accidental magic with cheese.



Chefs, Sue Conley and Peggy Smith, wanted to help West Marin’s farms and dairies bring their products to Bay Area restaurants and to that end they started Tomales Bay Foods, a marketing agency with a cheese hobby. The cheese making room in the front of their shop called to their creative culinary past. From this room The Cowgirl Creamery was born and their cheeses have become a favorite Bay Area and national pleasure.

To be quark or not to be quark was the challenge that became what is now the fanciful fromages of this Point Reyes Station creamery. The mercurial delights of their cheeses came about by mingling their passion and ideas with spores, bacteria, and fresh, local, organic milk. Family recipes quickly morphed into totally new creations. These cheeses support the MALT dairy farmers and the goals of the original Tomales Bay Foods. This is also a good reminder that new spores are not always bad spores, in fact they may make your cheese a national treasure.  I have recently fallen in love with bacteria, molds and mushrooms. If we are to love our food we must love our soils which are supported not only by the miraculous power of earthworms, but by beneficial microorganisms that build our soils as well as the glory of a cheese rind that grows from it's own salad of microorganisms.

Molly Myerson trusts people to use the honor system at her self serve Little Wing Farm stand filled with seasonal vegetables.

The success of Molly Myerson's, Little Wing Farm is a new kind of giving tree.

Her self-serve farm stand hearkens to time lost that many of us wish to reclaim. It is filled with fresh flowers and delicious vegetables that come from her two-and-half-acre plot of MALT protected land.


Molly uses that same trust she has in people in her garden and illustrated this with a fennel stalk that had bolted. It has become for Molly its own kind of giving tree. Past its salad days, it gives her flowers that also give nectar to the bees and sweetness to the honey. As it reaches to the sky, it offers shade for her when weeding a nearby row and then it gives her seed for the next season saving her money. As yet another volunteer from nature it has given much more than expected. This simple story of a fennel that bolted challenges our desire to control and master and often unwittingly destroy interconnected, delicate systems. The more we watch nature at work, the more we can sit back and let her do her work which produces so much abundance of everything from the air we breathe to the food we eat.  Molly herself is like a wildflower, who pollinates ideas of inter-connectedness, resulting in some very sweet results. Working in concert with nature rather than against nature provides synergistic benefits for the bugs, birds, bank, table and let’s not forget, carbon reductions.


There were many Marin County delights that we did not have time to visit.  One that may inspire repeated visits is the Heidrun Meadery, the purveyers of a drink as sweet as honey and as bubbly as the best champagne.

Heidrun Meadery, Founded in
1997 by Gordon Hull, relocated the farm to Point Reyes Station in 2011,  about an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge. There they cultivate flowers, keeps bees and host a regular mead tasting schedule. Bring some friends and pick up a picnic at the Cowgirl Creamery to enjoy with your sparkling mead.

The Mead, the Myth
& the Maker.

Heidrun Meadery is located in Point Reyes Station and is well worth a visit. They produce delicious, naturally sparkling varietal meads using the traditional French method of Champenoise. Their trademark Champagne-style of mead is "light, dry, delicate and refreshing, with subtle exotic aromas and flavors found only in the essence of honey."

Protecting the quality of this open space for future generations of all species takes teamwork. The Environmental Forum of Marin (EFM) helps it's students get to know the team.

The Conservation landscape of Marin County, California is also a Conversation Landscape between nature, farmers, and several non-profits working in concert to protect our future and its landscape.

Environmental Forum of Marin (EFM) clearly illustrates the commingling of nonprofits and the community benefits to the Master Class students with the annual farm tour, which highlights key drivers in improving conservation networks



Within a few short miles of Point Reyes Station, we see how the quality of our food system is intrinsic to the quality of our natural systems, and to the relationships people have to that land. This is the foundation to the mapping of the multi-agency approach necessary to conservation in Marin County. Through EFM's coursework students are given an inside view of the orchestra of agencies that are protecting and restoring our watersheds, farms, and atmosphere.

On Tuesday, September 10th we piled into a bus at 8 AM and set off to explore the conservation and conversation landscapes that protect Marin. This tour explored many of the positive outcomes of Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) and its partnership approach to long-term conservation. Straus Family creamery by example is the first 100% certified organic dairy west of the Mississippi, and has a strong partnership with MALT. Twenty-five years ago, Albert Straus formed Straus Family Creamery that became the first 100% certified organic dairy west of the Mississippi.

Environmental Forum of Marin begins its overview of the crucial conservation landscape each year with this dynamic farm tour. It introduces students to the relationships between nonprofits, farmers, land and food producers, making a visceral connection to the work that lies ahead.


More on achieving a Low-Carbon Future


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